One question we’re frequently asked is what dolphins do during hurricanes. The short answer is that we just don’t know. Since it’s not safe for humans on boats to be out during storms, we have to rely on opportunistic reports for insights.
A few years ago, we had just such an opportunity as we were monitoring a dolphin, R-10, that had been rescued and rehabilitated by SeaWorld-Florida. The dolphin was released off St. Augustine, Florida, in June 2018 after being outfitted with a satellite-linked tracking tag. While we were monitoring her progress in the wild — watching her travel north to the waters off the Carolinas — Hurricane Florence formed off Cape Verde and made landfall a few weeks later at Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, on Friday, Sept. 14, 2018.
Tag reports showed that as the storm approached, R-10 passively moved with the surface water currents as they shifted during the storm. These currents moved her further offshore and out of the area of high productivity — presumably where prey sources were located, and where she had been spending much of her time. Once the storm was ashore, she actively returned to the area of high productivity off Cape Fear where she had been prior to the storm, but remained offshore of areas of freshwater effluent from storm flooding.
Perhaps we will learn more about the movements of local dolphins during future storms now that we’re able to track them remotely through in-situ monitoring stations like our Passive Acoustic Listening Stations (PALS) and through the iTag network.